Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Peek into our Home

This week, we decided it was high time to show you our apartment.  We're feeling moved in, the house is not a wreck with our belongings spilled all over it, and we've even got some of our own decorations up.  So this post will be mostly pictures—as always, you can click on any of them for a closer look.

The street we live on is a tiny alley, which you've already gotten a glimpse of in the Bike Tales of Doom post.  Here are some more shots:

Here is our street-level front door, with the "2G" you'll recognize if you've needed to mail us anything, and looking up and to the right you can see our kitchen windows, open on a nice warm day:

Our apartment occupies the second and third floors of the building (or "first and second", for our European readers), so after a flight of stairs and an inner door you reach our apartment proper.  First up, the living room, complete with some Monet, the Van Gogh museum brochure, and "Nederlands voor Buitenlanders" on the coffee table.

If you need to use it, the only toilet in our apartment is in a tiny room right by our entrance.  It's got just enough room for the essentials, and not much else.

In contrast, the living room (as you've seen) and the kitchen are quite open and airy, with lots of natural light.  We're really happy with the touches we've added, such as the hanging herbs and bulb baskets.  It's also lovely to have an oven (most apartments just have a combination microwave/oven)—and if we didn't have a fridge, where would we put the pictures of and from some of our favorite children?

Here are some closer looks at the artwork adorning our walls in the kitchen and living room:

I'm really impressed at how Clara could hang seven pictures from just two pre-existing picture nails!  And a couple of the postcards are from since we've been here—we're so excited to send some ourselves! (Let us know in the comments if you want one from Leiden.)

Our bedroom is up a narrow half-octagonal staircase:

We have nice views out of both sides of our upper level:

That latter view is the balcony off our guest room, which is where you could stay if you come visit between now and December:

We do not own the lion stuffed animals.

We also have a lovely bathroom at the top of the stairs, complete with laundry machines (but no toilet—that's downstairs in the tiny room):

Lastly, here are some cookies Clara has discovered!  They're called "speculaas" and are apparently very tasty:
Speculaas cookies go well with plates.

Thanks for reading!  What would you like to see more pictures of?  Us being happy? Cool places in Leiden?  Candid photographs of inflatable kayaks?  Let us know in the comments!

Pictures of Leiden!

This post is almost entirely pictures. We've had some beautiful weather, so neither of us had to worry about a rain-soaked camera. It's felt really good to be able to zip around on my bike, and we're really starting to love our own city, setting down what feel like roots. But enough talking, here are the pictures!

A shot of some row houses on the way to the thrift store

Ivy strewn design store on the route to buy groceries (Hooglandse Church in the background!)

Same location as the precious shot, just looking street-side

This is the gateway to De Burcht, a fortress on a hill (yes, a hill!) in Leiden

Fantastic coats of arms around the entrance

As a true military fortress, it has little window peep-holes.

Here's one of the views from the top of the fortress, and pretty typical shot of Leiden
I'm getting to know my way around the city, in part by knowing the different steeples, and locating myself by them

And Hooglandse Kerk.

Again, but this time taken with an arm stretched over the wall.

Here I go, back into the city!
If you have questions or things you wish we were saying, let us know, and we'll write about them next week, as well as all the joys we can now experience, because yesterday... (drumroll please)... Owen and I got our very own Dutch Bank cards. Only a month after coming! There may also be tales of the celebrations of the Relief of Leiden, the city's biggest holiday.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Going to a Baby Shower? 12 book suggestions.

In honor of the many babies soon to be born or recently come to this beautiful world and into the arms of friends of mine, I have put together a list of books. These are all picture book, many of them board books I love and which I would regularly recommend to customer when working as a bookseller at Labyrinth Books. I've shied away from more typical/popular books, but by all means, please buy Very Hungry Caterpillars, Goodnight Moons, The Snowy Day or Where the Wild Things Are for the children you love, though bring a gift receipt just in case they already have it.

1. Brian Wildsmith's Animals to Count
A very small board book, this gem is defined by its hauntingly beautiful illustrations and its unusual choices of animals. Rather than non-specific "monkey" or "dog" has cranes and deer, weasels and tigers. The author has many small boardbooks, I recommend them all, but have found this one to be especially nice for the littlest of little children, as it has less text than some of the others.

2. Bruce Degen's Jamberry

You may know Degen's illustrations from the early Magic School Bus books, wildly energetic and bursting with life, all qualities healthy and present in Jamberry. This book is a frolicsome, whimsical rhyme about berrypicking, lots of fun to read, and one parents have mentioned to me as a book that doesn't get tiresome with frequent repetition. Available in boardbook as well as paper and hardback, I like the boardbook best, because the illustrations seem particularly lively in the smaller scale.

3. & 4. Sara Pinto's The Number Garden and The Alphabet Room
The two books are some of the most delightful Alphabet and counting books I've seen. They are board books, but for slightly older kids, maybe 24 months and up? They cardboard is thinner (and the price is a bit higher) because they have many more pages than typical boardbooks. However, they are utterly charming wordless stories for children to page through again and again. In the Number Garden each page presents an object or a character to join in the action of the story. 6 might be garden gnomes, so starting on page six, every page has six garden gnomes. On page 7 we might find seven pairs of sunglasses--six of which might be worn by the garden gnomes, but who gets the seventh?--and so it continues onward up to 12. Alphabet Room has the same format, except teaching letters instead of numbers. 

5. Taro Gomi's Bus Stops
Another boardbook, this one is a find and seek book. Each spread shows different people getting on and off of a bus, and asks the little reader to find the people described. On each spread there is also a little orange car. It's a quiet book, with a fair deal of emotional variation, commuters rushing, one stop where no one gets off, and finally a return home.

6. Anno's Counting book (Mitsumasa Anno)
One day lady came in looking for a book for her granddaughter. She had a specific counting book in mind, "the Japanese one, with the field and the river. It fills up as the numbers rise." I hadn't known the book before, but we found it together in the counting section, and she pointed out why she thought it was so special. She smiled at me, opened to the first spread and said, "It starts not with one, but with zero. My husband and I, we are mathematicians, and we care a lot about zero." So there you have it. Besides being a counting book, it also shows a town growing (one more building, and tree, and train car) with each turn of the page, and the seasons changing. It's lovely, though not available in boardbook to my knowledge.

7. Lois Ehlert's Eating the Alphabet
Ehlert is famous for illustrating Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, all brash greens, oranges and hot pinks. While that is a lot of fun, I like her illustration style in this book even better. It's done in gentler colors with watercolored cut paper, and shows off the beauty of fruits and vegetables, produce for every letter of the alphabet. Because this title is particularly popular, it is available in boardbook, both large and small sizes, as well as paper and hardback.

8. Pantone Box of Color
When customers came in looking for a book for a BABY--not for a baby to enjoy later in his or her life, but AS A BABY, I was glad to recommend this box of little books. It comes with six extra small, extra thick and sturdy board books each one showing a different color in its variations. The charm of these books is in the transformation of shapes from one image to another. If you look at the "Firetruck" image below, you may be able to see that the red shape shown is a shape cut out of the cardboard. When you flip the page, that same firetruck shape becomes a wagon! Each cutaway shape makes two different pictures against the background color on either side. It's mesmerizing even for adults, and the books are sturdy enough to last the teething of more than one child.

9. Catch Me and Kiss Me and Say it Again by Clyde Watson, illus. by Wendy Watson
Unlike the other books on this list, this book is out of print. That means that you'll have to search for a decent copy online and buy it used. While this may deter you, (who wants to buy a used book for a babyshower?) let me just say that this book is one I loved beyond expression as a child. It is a book of rhymes for children infinitely superior to most typical nursery rhymes because they are about normal life (including mundane things like clipping fingernails and taking baths) and they come to mind when doing normal things (like cutting portions in two). I still have many of them memorized. For example:

One for me and One for you
If there's One leftover
Then what'll we do?
We'll take up a knife
And cut it in two
So there's
One for me and One for you.

10. John Feierabend's The Book of Lullabies

This book is a treasure house, particularly for parents who like to sing and can read music. John Feierabend is an expert in folk music, and this is his compilation of words and music for dozens of beautiful lullabies. If you don't know if the parents can read music, don't despair! I'm certain there are recordings on YouTube of people singing the tunes, and both words and music are in the book. This is one in a series of books (including The Book of Wiggles and Tickles, and The Book of Bounces) also excellent for the parents of babies.

11. Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

This gorgeous picturebook came out last year, and when we sold out in the holiday rush we were dismayed to find that the distributers, even the publisher was out of stock, and that there were no more available until they could print more. It won a Caldecott Honor, and no wonder, since the illustrations are so luminous and rich that you can just fall into them. The story is also gentle and gracious, showing a little girl as she gets ready for bed. It's not a book geared for infants, but it's one that will last years of reading. As far as I know, this book is still only out in hardcover.

12. Rosie's Magic Horse by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Remember the Frances books? A Baby Sister for Frances? A Bargain for Frances? Wonderful, right? Russell Hoban wrote those, and this is the last book he wrote before he died. The story alone is pure gold, but it's also illustrated by another one of the greatest contributors to children's literature, Quentin Blake. When I read this book, I spent about a week, reading it to anyone who would stand still. Don't just give it to children, give it to everyone you know.

Those are some of my favorites. Have I forgotten yours? Let me know which books you think are a MUST for the smallest of children.